Guest blogger, Emily Benjamin, a Zoo Academy senior:
By Emily Benjamin
This year the Zoo Academy has gone through a lot of changes and it has been an adjustment for us students. Last year, we reported to the Zoo Academy and were released from the Zoo Academy. This year we spend half of our day at the Zoo Academy and half of our day at Hughes STEM High School. For juniors, you report to the Zoo Academy and are bused to Hughes. Seniors are reversed. This is because we have one less teacher here than last year due to financial reasons. She was moved to Hughes and we take our Math and English courses there now.
For someone who experienced the program last year, it’s been tough to adapt. Even though it’s changed, the best parts are still the same. We still get hands on experience with the animals and experience in a work place (unconventional as it may be). We still work hard for the Zoo and it still is just as rewarding.
For example, I worked in the Primate Center for my first animal lab. It was probably one of the worst to start off with because I hadn’t really gotten used to the smell of the Zoo (now I can identify most departments from smell alone). Though it was hard work, it was also lot of fun. We popped popcorn for the gorillas and we’d give them raisin boards as enrichment. A raisin board is a small piece of very thick plastic with small holes drilled in them. We would push raisins into the holes for the gorillas to dig out. One time we even made sacks of hay, popcorn and other vegetables. We left them in the gorilla yard and Ron Evans, the lead keeper, shifted the gorillas into the yard. It took them less than five minutes to find each one and tear it apart. So much for all of our hard work.
Cat Show was also a great lab to be in. I’ve always loved cats and so it was like a dream come true. I loved working around the cheetahs and the dogs. They were total sweethearts. Quilliam, the adorable porcupine, and the common housecats didn’t hurt either. I like small cats better than large cats with a few exceptions. I even own a cat myself. Anyway, one of the highlights of this lab was the time I came in on a Saturday morning to make up hours and I got to pet Tommy T the cheetah. It was a lot more relaxed and there was a very interesting story that day.
Another note, the animals aren’t always the highlight of my time in each lab. Sometimes the keepers make it a great lab to be in all on their own. Some of them have cool stories to share or maybe they’re just extra enthusiastic about their jobs (after all, being a zoo keeper is cool). I’ve had just as many good experiences with the people as I’ve had with the animals.
So yes, the Zoo Academy has changed but it isn’t quite as bad as I thought it would be. I still go to lab and just last week I was socializing a mini-Juliana pig. A few weeks ago I worked with Bonnie, the screaming hairy armadillo. Today I get to write about the Zoo Academy for the blog. Isn’t that exciting? I’m still learning and loving animals more and more.